This new visual search technology wants to be the Shazam of local bars and restaurants. This new visual search technology wants to be the Shazam of local bars and restaurants. This new visual search technology wants to be the Shazam of local bars and restaurants. (Photo: Fringefy)

What’s that building? This technology knows

AliceWho? is a new visual search technology coming soon to your phone.

Do you find searching for things on your mobile phone clumsy? And what if you’re visiting a new town and you don’t know what you're looking at – how can you get information about it? Now there is a new visual search technology called AliceWho? that aims to be the Shazam or Artbit of restaurants, retail, real estate and local landmarks.

AliceWho? was developed by Fringefy, an Israeli startup founded by a group of pilots-turned-entrepreneurs. The concept for the technology was inspired by the cockpit systems used in air travel.

“We’ve been working with computer vision and head-mounted display systems when flying. The intuition and the way we feel visual exploration should be experienced is a concept that originated from flying with vision systems,” Fringefy co-founder and CEO Amir Adamov told From the Grapevine.

Just like Shazam can hear and identify music, with AliceWho? a user can simply point a phone’s camera at any place, and the phone will display all the relevant information about that place. You might get a Wikipedia entry, for example, or a real estate listing.

“Local search today is very clumsy, it’s very slow, and the geo-sensors of the phones today are oblivious to the user’s intent. We decided to use the human sense of vision to deliver intuitive and quick access to local content,” said co-founder Assif Ziv, speaking at the 2015 Augmented World Expo in California.

The technology was briefly released last summer as a standalone app available in the iTunes and Google Play app stores. But since then, Fringefy has changed its focus to licensing its innovative visual search technology to popular apps. Now it’s available in a demo form, and Fringefy’s code is available for developers to test how the technology could be integrated into other iPhone apps.

“AliceWho? is a demo app; it’s not meant to be a standalone public service,” says Adamov, a graduate of the Interdisciplinary Center in Israel. “We want our technology to be used as a feature of visual search within other applications or content providers.” He says apps like Yelp, TripAdvisor and Zillow are all good candidates for early integration of the technology.

The design of the AliceWho? user experience was inspired by avionics display systems.The design of the AliceWho? user experience was inspired by avionics display systems.

“Yelp tried to do similar things that had to do with augmented reality, but the result was not very efficient,” Adamov says.

AliceWho? uses a phone’s location to short-list the possible places it could be seeing, while cities are indexed using both automatic and semi-automatic tools for crawling the web to identify places. Crowdsourcing is also used.

The technology is particularly great for travelers. “If I look at a restaurant, the image of the building is a sort of international language; there’s no language barrier. I don’t need to be able to explain what I’m seeing,” Adamov says.

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